All About Beer Magazine - Volume 35, Issue 5
September 15, 2014 By Staff
Tom Shellhammer’s project investigates dry-hopping, and what effect different oil levels have.

Tom Shellhammer

Brewing is a science, but it’s also an ancient rite, and people sometimes pass wisdom among themselves based on nothing more than superstition. Remember this old chestnut? Hops with high cohumulone levels give beer a harsh bitterness. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if you could actually test that theory? In fact, people went to Corvallis, OR, to ask Tom Shellhammer to do exactly that.

Shellhammer is a professor of fermentation sciences at Oregon State University, where he has been doing groundbreaking research on hops for over a decade. The hop plant Humulus lupulus goes way back in Corvallis; not only are hops grown nearby, but also the USDA’s famous breeding program produced early American classics like Cascade and Willamette. For decades, brewers and hop growers have trekked to OSU to learn more about the spice of beer, and lately Shellhammer has been happy to guide them into the future.

His career at OSU is a microcosm of the revolution in brewing that is unfolding. A decade ago, the big breweries drove research, and they were interested in ways to gently balance their light lagers with bittering hops. With consolidation, less research comes from big breweries, and craft breweries have stepped forward. The little guys, though, are interested in flavor and aroma, not bitterness. Shellhammer’s current project investigates dry-hopping and what effect different oil levels have. Hop oils spike at the end of the season and can vary by 100 percent or more. Does it matter to the aromas they impart, or is it just the bulk quantity of hops breweries use? This is not an issue pertinent for Natural Light, but Sierra Nevada would love to know. “Craft breweries are the future,” Shellhammer says.

Oh, and that cohumulone thing? Shellhammer found that there was little effect, but “the high cohumulone hop had more desirable bitterness.”

This profile appears in the November 2014 issue of All About Beer MagazineClick here for a free trial of our next issue.

Go back to the main list of beer innovators.